Arizona memorial sought for fallen K-9 police dogs

Senta Scarborough
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 28th, 2004

They often are the first to search the building and first to face a bullet fired by a suspect on the run.

And the Mesa Police Association hopes to honor the 11 K-9 police dogs that have died in the line of duty in Arizona since the 1970s by erecting a memorial.

"They work through gunfire and are not scared. They have to be very courageous," said Mesa police Officer Gordon Leitz, a K-9 trainer and association spokesman. "This is to honor them for the service they have performed and what they sacrificed their lives for."

The state Legislature this year passed a bill to create the memorial, which has been pushed by the non-profit police group. The group is asking the public for help in raising $25,000 to place a bronze statue of a German shepherd on a pedestal in the state Capitol's Wesley Bolin Plaza , near the fallen Arizona police officers' memorial. The names of the fallen dogs, the date of their death and their department will be engraved in a granite foundation.

The group has collected $3,000 and Wells Fargo is making a $1,000 donation, Leitz said.

Police dogs scout out buildings and search neighborhoods, are used in SWAT situations like hostage incidents, assist in high-risk car stops and sniff out drug and bombs.

"We put these dogs in harm's way to go and find a suspect. The dog is the first presence the suspect will encounter," Leitz said. "When the dog gets shot, he probably saved an officer."

Most of the 11 fallen dogs died serving Valley police agencies, including departments in Phoenix and Tempe , Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Arizona Department of Public Safety. They have died because of heat exhaustion, poisoning, getting run over by a vehicle, falling during training exercises and being shot by criminal suspects.

The East Valley 's only fallen K-9 was a Tempe police dog named Murph. The dog died Nov. 21, 1986, as an armed carjacking suspect held a 6-year-old boy hostage.

"K-9s are an important part of any law enforcement agency. They're disciplined, loyal, fearless and well trained," said Tempe police Chief Ralph Tranter, who was shot in the face while trying to rescue the boy during the hostage incident. "Their devotion to mission often protects street officers from the daily risks of policing that can evolve into deadly encounters."

Close to 220 K-9s serve the public in law enforcement agencies statewide.

"These dogs perform their services without question, without any sort of adulation or congratulations," said Phoenix police Officer Ben Boyer, a K-9 police trainer who lost Dax as the dog was pursuing a homicide suspect. "The commitment and sacrifice they made needs to be understood and put into perspective, and I think that is what this memorial will do."